Jun 19, 2020

Chocolate Fraisier | Portrait Cake

Manish's cousin Saurav came to US in January this year to complete his BTech final year project. In March we planned for him to come visit us during his college spring break which was from first week of March and a week later Manish's parents and sis were also supposed to come over. A week after Saurav came to Charlotte, the Covid pandemic hit high and cities slowly went into lockdown mode. Manish's parents and sister decided not to travel from LA and slowly everyone had to cancel a lot of plans, including Manish's birthday party which we later celebrated at home. Saurav's college also shut down and then Charlotte went into lockdown so he was pretty much stuck with us. Lol!

So anyways...coming back to Saurav Chetta (as the kids used to call him),  although technically he should be called Saurav Chittappa ;-) It was all a learning game for all of us on how do we survive during a lockdown, online grocery purchases, cooking everything at home, no outings at all and just the art of living at home day n night for weeks together. Over time Saurav Chetta became the new playmate for Appu and Mihi. Although he mostly spent his time in his room studying for upcoming courses and tests, in the evenings everyone would come down and spend time with each other. Once the weather got warm he would go out on bike rides or to play cricket or water fights with them. I got a lot of help in the kitchen with him washing and clearing the dishes, sometimes even assisting me as sou chef when I'm cooking something. Manish got his share of help with grocery clean ups, house clean up and an extra hand for outdoor stuff or just watching the kids. We had a good time inspite of it being lockdown and all.

Saurav chetta and the kids loved making chocolate cakes now and then. All of them are chocoholics. Whenever we had overripe bananas in the house it was mandatory to make Chocolate Banana cake. I would guide them but they used to make the whole cake themselves and even clear up the dirty dishes. Once baked and cooled I would top it with a thin coating of chocolate ganache and they would all enjoy the cake over a couple of days as a snack. Saurav's 1 week vacation with us turned up into a 3½ month stay and we all really enjoyed his company. I hope he did too...Lol!

After a long wait we were finally able to book his return flight back to India on an Air India evacuation flight for Jun16th. So the last few days before his return was spent on making the best of his time here and cooking/baking and eating all kinds of stuff.  I wanted to do a fun little farewell treat for him and the kids, something that was easy and wouldn't take a lot of effort. Trust me this whole quarantine thingy is making me quite lazy in terms of doing elaborate stuff ;-)

Making a Fraisier has been on my mind for a long time now. A Fraisier cake, is derived from the French word “fraise” meaning strawberry. It is a classic French cake that is traditionally comprised of a sponge cake, Génoise, cut in half, soaked with simple syrup, filled with a crème patisserie, with Strawberries arranged on the side and topped with almond paste or ganache. 

Since the kids loved my Chocolate Banana Cake, I decided to make the same Chocolate cake (without the bananas) with Chocolate Mousse filling, as I had whipping cream in hand and ofcourse decorate with strawberries.  

Chocolate Cake

You’ll Need
1¾ cups All-purpose flour
2 cups Sugar
¾ cups Cocoa powder (Used Hershey’s)
2 teaspoons Baking soda
1 teaspoon Baking powder
2 large Eggs (at room temperature)
1 cup Milk
1 cup Hot coffee / Hot water
½ cup Vegetable oil
1 teaspoon Vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon fresh Orange Zest (optional)

1.Pre-heat the oven to 350 F degrees. Grease two 
9-inch round cake pans.  Line them with parchment paper and keep aside.
2. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix until combined.
3. In another bowl, combine the milk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients into the dry ones. 
4. With the mixer still on low, add the hot coffee (or hot water) and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
5. Add the orange zest and stir to combine. (Orange zest in chocolate cake adds such a bright flavor – totally optional though)
6. Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pans and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.
7. Cool in the pans for 15 minutes, then turn them out onto cooling racks and cool completely.

Chocolate Mousse (Eggless)
You’ll Need
2 cups Heavy Whipping Cream
¾ cup Cocoa powder
1 ½ cups Powdered Sugar (adjust sweetness as per taste)
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoon Gelatin

1. Bloom Gelatin – add 2 teaspoon gelatin powder to ¼ cup cold water and let it set.
2.In the bowl of kitchen mixer, add whipping cream, sift cocoa powder and powdered sugar over it.
3. Using whisk attachment start whisking on low speed until everything is fully incorporated and then increase the speed gradually.
4. When the whipping cream starts to thicken add 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract.
5. Warm the gelatin in the microwave for 10-20 secs , just until it becomes liquid.
6. Increase the speed of the mixer to High and pour in the gelatin in a thin streak. Whip until the mousse thickens.

Assembling the Chocolate Fraisier
You’ll need
2 layers of Chocolate Cake
Chocolate Mousse
10-15 equal sized Strawberries (washed and cut in half)
Parchment paper or Acetate cake collar sheets

1.Place one layer of Chocolate Cake on a cake board/serving plate/Cake stand.
2. Carefully and snugly align the parchment paper or acetate sheet around the sides of the cake.
3. Place the halved strawberries in a neat line around the edge of the cake.
4. Fill with Chocolate Mousse until it is level with the height of the strawberries. Fill in the gaps between the strawberries also with mousse.
5. Hold the parchment paper or acetate sheet tightly so that the fillings don’t seep through the sides. (I used a ribbon to keep the parchment paper in place)
6. Place the next layer of cake on top of the mousse very carefully.
7. Refrigerate for several hours until the mousse is set.
8. Once cake is set, carefully take the parchment paper or acetate sheet out.

Now on to an interesting decor idea...making a portrait on the Chocolate Fraisier. This was a fun idea that came to my mind as a perfect little farewell for Saurav. 

A Fraisier by itself is a pretty dessert cake not requiring a lot of frosting or decoration. But I wanted the cake to be even more memorable. I love Silhouette patterns as a cake design so thought instead of a silhouette I'll make a stencil of his face and stencil that on to the cake. 

After I shared pics of the cake I have to say friends from social media hasn't stopped singing praises and I am so glad to share the technique with you. Perhaps you can give it a try for a special occassion of yours. 
This technique can be done on any dessert or cake you wish to celebrate with.

Here's how I went about doing this Portrait cake on the Chocolate Fraisier.
1. Baked two 9" Chocolate cakes (I tweaked my Chocolate Banana Cupcakes slightly).
2. Got the portrait stencil ready.
3. Prepared the Chocolate Mousse filling.
4. Assembled the Fraisier and added the portrait on the cake and refrigerated everything to set overnight. 

How to make a PORTRAIT on a CAKE

Get the image ready
  • Take a picture of the person whose Portrait you want to sketch, where the face is clearly visible. Using a photo editing tool crop out the face.
  • Using the photo editing tool make the image Black and White and increase the contrast so that the image would show only black or white areas of the face. Save this image.
  • Once the image is ready, Print it out to the size required. (here it is printed on a 8x11 sized regular paper)

Tracing the image:
  • Trace over the black portions on the image with a dark pen or pencil - these are the portions you will cut out. 
  • If any areas are not that dark but you feel will add definition to the face, then make markings to cut those areas out. For example: I traced over the nose curve and some areas of the hair and neck. 

Cut out traced portions:
  • Use a sharp exacto knife and carefully cut out all the traced areas. The paper might tear in some spots or smaller areas, just be careful and do clean cuts.
  • I wanted the stencil to be one full piece so even though some areas got separated, once I had cut them out I placed it back together and stuck the ends together with very thin strips of tape.
  • The eye pupils were difficult, so I had to separately make the black pupil and white corners and stuck it with tape. 

Your stencil sheet is now ready.

Get the assembled cake out of the refrigerator. I used parchment paper and a ribbon to keep the parchment paper secured around the cake until the cake was firmly set.

Since it was a Chocolate cake I wanted a lighter shade on top to apply the portrait on. So I applied a thin coating of very light colored chocolate buttercream over the top. Almost like a thin crumb coat, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Chill the cake again until the buttercream has hardened a bit. (I do not have any pics of these steps unfortunately)

Then place the face/portrait stencil sheet over the cake and adjust it such that the good portion of the face comes right in the center.

Use cocoa powder, coffee powder, hot cocoa powder or any dark colored fine grain powder to sift over the stencil sheet onto the cake - I used cocoa powder and a regular tea strainer to slowly sift the cocoa powder all over the cut portions on the stencil making sure it gets a decent yet even layer of the powder.
Very carefully lift the stencil without shaking much and move it aside.


We had a fun little celebration on our patio. Saurav was really surprised and said he felt like a filmstar. It was the perfect cake for his farewell and everyone had a great time!

The cake was a huge hit. Saurav was all over himself seeing his portrait on a cake. The chocolate cake was moist and perfect with a small hint of orange flavor and the creamy mousse was so delicious, you couldn't stop enjoying it. We pretty much ate up half the cake and the kids were fighting for who got Saurav chetta's face ;-) 
We miss Saurav chetta so much and hope he will come back for a visit soon....

Do give this dessert and design a try for your next upcoming celebration and watch the bright smiles on your loved ones faces. This coming sunday is Father's Day...sounds like a perfect time eh!


May 8, 2020

Butter Chicken

Where do I even begin describing my love for Butter Chicken. It has been my most favorite dish ever since childhood and no other dish has taken its' place. 
My very first cooking experiment was in my 7th  grade when I was living in Mumbai and it began with Shaheen's Butter Chicken recipe. Shaheen lived in our neighboring building and it would be an understatement to say that her mom made 'the best dishes ever'. Every evening my sister, myself and other kids in our neighborhood would gather outside to play Badminton or Hide-n-seek and Shaheen would often bring some snacks from home, sometimes even curries n chapathis for us to taste and they were all always mind blowing. So damn tasty!

I somehow persuaded her to give me any recipe to try from her mom's recipe book, and she gave the recipe to her favorite dish. I was so excited to get the recipe and I remember that I asked my mom to not step into the kitchen while I made the dish. I probably made a lot of mess and did inaccurate measurements b'coz mummy had to come and help out a bit here and there while I made it but finally I made my first ever dish, Butter Chicken! To me it tasted quite good, but not as good as what I had tasted from Shaheen's, but pretty decent for a 7th graders first time cooking venture.
I have lost that original recipe now over the years, but thanks to Youtube and tons of blogs with wonderful recipes I've made it several times, atleast whenever I have heavy cream at hand. 

Butter Naan or Garlic Naan is our favorite accompaniment to have with Butter Chicken. But fragrant Basmati rice is another wonderful option to have with this creamy delicious dish. If you want to indulge yourself a bit more, maybe make some Jeera Rice.  Basmati rice, naan or chapathi is what goes best with Butter Chicken. 

Since Butter Chicken is more on the creamy side and less on the spice it's a rich and superb dish for kids. Both my little ones love this dish and although Manish usually enjoys whatever I make, he always prefers dishes that puts his tongue on fire...lol! 

This time it was Manish's college going cousin bro, Saurav, who actually made this dish pretty much from start to end.  He had come to visit us during his spring break early March but had to stay back due to the covid-19 lockdown. We and the kids have been totally enjoying his company here with us. He loves any chicken dish and was game to make it from scratch. 

Saurav chose a recipe he had already tried with his hostel friends from HomeCooking and it came out really good. I just helped with gathering the ingredients, grinding the puree and taking pictures....haha! 

Butter Chicken
Serves : 3-4

You’ll Need
To Marinate Chicken
1 Lb Boneless Chicken (Breast or Thigh meat)
1 teaspoon Ginger-Garlic paste
1 Tablespoon Thick Yogurt
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice / White Vinegar
2 teaspoons Kashmiri Red Chilli powder
1 teaspoon Garam Masala
Salt - as needed
1 Tablespoon Oil/Butter (to fry marinated chicken)

For the Gravy paste
1 Tablespoon Butter
1 Tablespoon Oil
1 Large Onion (chopped)
1 Tablespoon Ginger-Garlic paste
2 Large Tomatoes (chopped)
¼ cup Cashew Nuts
1 Tablespoon Kashmiri Red Chilli powder
1 teaspoon Corriander powder
1 teaspoon Cumin powder
1 teaspoon Garam Masala
1 teaspoon Sugar
½ cup Water or as needed
Salt – as needed

Final Butter chicken gravy
1 Tablespoon Butter
teaspoon Kashmiri Red Chilli powder
1 teaspoon Kasuri Methi
½ cup Heavy Cream
2 Tablespoon chopped Corriander leaves

Marinate the Chicken
Cut the boneless chicken into 1” cubes and marinate by mixing with everything under ‘To Marinate Chicken’ for atleast 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Fry the chicken
In a large pan, heat 1 tablespoon butter or oil, add the marinated chicken cubes and fry them until the chicken is fully cooked. Transfer the cooked chicken onto a plate and keep aside.

Making the gravy paste
1. In the same pan, heat butter and oil and add Onions and Ginger garlic paste. Sauté until Onions caramelize into a golden brown color. You can add some salt to quicken the cooking.
2. Next add in the Tomatoes and cashew nuts and sauté until the tomatoes turn soft.
3. Add Kashmiri chilli powder, coriander powder, cumin powder and garam masala, sugar and salt (as needed) and some water, cook for 2-3 more minutes and turn off the heat.
4. Once the mix has cooled, take a grinder and grind everything into a smooth paste. (I added some more water while grinding to make the paste smoother and to add more gravy)

Putting together the Butter chicken dish
1. Again in the same pan, heat 1 Tablespoon Butter and add 1 teaspoon of kashmiri red chilli powder and roast it for a minute.
2. Now add the pureed gravy paste and bring the gravy to a boil
3. Add the fried chicken pieces, kasuri methi , heavy cream and simmer for a minute.
4. Garnish with chopped Corriander leaves and turn off the heat.
5. Serve Butter Chicken with Basmati rice, Naan, Rotis etc

1. I used 4 large boneless Chicken Breasts for this recipe.
2. Kashmiri Red chilli is not as spicy as regular Red Chilli powder and gives a bright red color to the dish. However, if you do not have Kashmiri chilli, use regular Red chilli powder and a pinch of orange food coloring for that bright color for the gravy.
3. Adjust spice levels to your taste. 

This Sunday, May10th, is Mother's Day...So wishing all wonderful moms a splendid, healthy and Happy Mother's day! Show this recipe to your spouse or family and let them make this easy dish for you and pamper you to the core ;-)


May 5, 2020

Mexican Flan | Creamy and delicious | Low Fat recipe

I just came to know from my work colleague that today 5th of May is Cinco De Mayo. It's a historical military victory of the Battle of Puebla celebrated in some parts of Mexico and USA. So here's wishing all who are celebrating, a very Happy Cinco De Mayo. My office always celebrates all kinds of cultural festivals both regional and international and we would have been treated to some yumm Tacos and mexcian treats today had it not been closed to the quarantine. I do miss all that but here's some fun facts shared by one of my office colleagues about the festival.

And to celebrate I thought it's a perfect day to be sharing with a you a truly delicious Mexican dessert...Flan! And this coming Sunday is Mother's Day, so if not for Cinco De Mayo you can always prepare this delicious dessert for another fun celebration.

Mexican Flan is known by many names, Caramel Custard, Egg Pudding, Creme Caramel etc to name a few and it's basically a cooked vanilla egg custard/pudding with caramel sauce and best enjoyed chilled. It's always seen in most Mexican restaurant menu.

My Mom called it Caramel Custard and made it several times in our younger days. She used a deep bottomed steel bowl and made one large Flan with the delicious caramel running down it's sides. It was quite the magic act when she inverted the bowl and waited for the mild thud of the custard being released from the bowl into the plate below. We used to wait with keen anticipation and hope it would stay in shape and it always did...lol! I believe she used to steam her caramel custard instead of baking it, but it works just fine both ways. 

There are so many recipes for Flan, but I specifically wanted to try a low-fat version. Most recipes call for condensed milk or heavy cream etc and lots of sugar. It tastes divine no matter how it's made but I wanted something that we could indulge in but still not too high in calories. Eating Well had the perfect recipe and it took me less than 1 hour to put it together, bake the flan and refrigerate.  

Its best to either prepare the Flan at night and enjoy the next day, or make it in the morning and it'b be ready to indulge in by evening as it needs a few hours to set and get chilled before serving.

Mexican Flan (Low fat recipe)

Serves: 6
Prep time: 10 mins
Bake time: 35-40 mins
Serve: in about 4-12 hours (after chilling)

You’ll Need
For caramel sauce
⅓ cup sugar

For Flan
1 (12 ounce) can evaporated milk (1 ½ cups)
⅓ cup sugar
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

6 small ramekins 
Rectangular baking tray
Hot water

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
2. Caramelize the sugar:  In a saucepan, spread ⅓ cup sugar evenly and cook over medium-high heat until sugar starts to melt. Once sugar starts to melt, reduce heat to low. Cook until all of the sugar is melted and golden brown, stirring as needed with wooden spoon.
3. Immediately divide caramelized sugar among six ramekins; tilt the ramekins to coat bottoms evenly. Allow to cool slightly. (the caramel hardens quickly so be as fast as possible taking care not to touch the piping hot caramel)
4. In a bowl, combine eggs, evaporated milk, 1/3 cup sugar and vanilla. (can use a magic bullet to mix everything together)
5. Place ramekins in a rectangular baking pan (I used my 9"x13" cake pan). Divide egg mixture equally amongst the ramekins. Place baking pan on oven rack and pour hot water into baking pan around ramekins to a depth of about ½ inch.
Baking the Flan in ramekins placed within baking tray filled halfway with hot water
6. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted near center of each flan comes out clean. Remove ramekins from water. Cool on wire rack.
7. Cover  the top of ramekins and chill in refrigerator for 4 to 24 hours.
8. To unmold, loosen edges of the flan (from the sides and bottom) with a knife and invert a dessert plate over each flan; turn plate and custard cup over together. Remove ramekins from flans. Spoon out any caramelized sugar that remains over the flan.

Serve it just as it is or with some whipped cream or fruits.

Other delicious Mexican inspired treats on the blog include: